Six Ways to Eliminate Unconscious Bias in Tech Recruitment

Six Ways to Eliminate Unconscious Bias in Tech Recruitment

In our world today calls to reduce bias in tech recruitment and improve diversity in the industry have never been louder. As our lives become more tech-driven, ignoring what is already a largely unresolved issue will ultimately cost businesses.

Tech companies need diverse talents. There is no understating that, especially if we aim to develop truly helpful solutions to greater society. Nightmarish stories of racist facial recognition technology and AI already reportedly adopting hate speech should serve as enough of a warning sign for the dangers of a non-inclusive workplace.

Those said, it’s easy to deduce that, if this continues, we ultimately lose the trust and support of customers. But as urgent as the matter is, leaders still find themselves at a loss as to how to diversify their workforce.

The struggle to fill the diversity gap

Many reason out that there is simply a lack of diversity in the STEM education pipeline. Pew research found that, despite the growth in STEM degrees awarded in all categories in recent years, the majority of these were still earned by male candidates.

Of all the categories, women were found to be most underrepresented in the engineering and computer sciences. But the gap doesn’t just persist between genders. There is underrepresentation of various races as well.

The same Pew Research findings also reveal that Hispanic and Black adults also go underrepresented in STEM. In computer science, only 8% of Hispanic students earned master’s degrees that were awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in 2017 to 2018.

The number of Black students is not that much larger. In the same field, Black students earned only 13% of master’s degrees in the same time period.

The pipeline argument is strong but may need some reassessment. And that’s because, these days, it’s likely to be refuted by broadening the scope of talent search. Considering how the pandemic has shown us that remote work is possible, the pipeline issue may be irrelevant as we gain access to a pool of global talents.

But even if our search spans the globe, it will all be useless if, at the recruitment level, we do not unlearn certain unconscious biases. A candidate, after all, is defenseless against our own human biases.

Hence, regardless of where you stand in the matter of the talent pipeline, we need to ensure that once the talent presents itself, none of these unconscious biases will affect the process. Working with so many diversity mentors at MentorCruise, this is one of the things we’ve helped countless tech leaders and recruiters with.

We know that removing the biases starts with recognizing them, and ends by uprooting it in culture. We discuss how all of this works, in this article.

How to reduce bias in tech recruitment

  1. Recognizing your own unconscious biases.

The first step to reducing bias is by first becoming aware of them. Hence, we must inspect the specific types of unconscious biases that manifest themselves at the recruitment phase.

Note that these can show even in the evaluation of applicant resumés. So it’s important to learn and mind these early on so you avoid unwittingly disqualifying candidates based on what they put down on paper.

Unconscious bias are attitudes and perceptions that we are unaware of and may be deeply ingrained within us. These influence both our thoughts and actions, potentially leading to unfair advantages and disadvantages in specific situations.

These can be held towards ethnicity, gender, age, accent, sexual orientation, and much more. They affect our decisions and can lead us to deal negative consequences against people subject to our biases, and may cause us to discriminate against certain individuals and/or groups.

There are many types of biases that manifest during recruitment. But specifically for tech recruitment, some of the most common biases are:

Most Common Types of Biases in Tech Recruitment
Type of Bias Definition
Affinity bias Occurs when a candidate shares similarities with the interviewer, thereby earning their favor.
Confirmation bias This is where a recruiter will look for information that will support an initial opinion of a candidate to avoid being refuted.
Gender bias Happens when the recruiter assumes a certain belief about a candidate based solely on gender.
Cultural bias Are assumptions held about a group based on one’s cultural background.
  1. Conduct diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) training.

We cannot correct what we are not aware of, nor have the knowledge to correct. Hence, the next most practical thing you can do to reduce bias in tech hiring is to ensure that your recruitment teams receive DEI training.

Here, you have the option to work with a diversity mentor or conduct group training sessions with a dedicated professional. But regardless of the route you choose, DEI training can prove to be a valuable step to take to eliminate bias in your entire organization.

We’ll discuss more of this later on, as we touch on how we can continue to foster DEI in the workplace.

  1. Implement a blind recruitment process.

A blind recruitment process is an approach that anonymizes applicants during the screening process. This is done by obscuring personally identifiable information such as names, genders, and photos.

What we see on paper is an applicant’s skills, qualifications, and relevant work experience. Nothing else. The idea is that we cannot form unconscious biases towards information we technically can’t perceive. The image below is an example of a blind resumé.

What to Anonymize for candidate

While most job platforms and even applicants have yet to adopt this in their resumé building practices, you can start implementing this with the help of the same applicant tracking systems you choose to employ.

  1. Standardize your interview questions.

As they say in show business: Stick to the script. The script or, in this case, a standardized list of questions keeps you from skewing from best practices during interviews and eliminates bias.

This is a common practice during structured interviews which pose many benefits for both recruiters and applicants. These include:

  • Reduction of bias. By asking individual candidates the same set of questions, you are more able to evaluate them fairly.
  • Saves time. A strict list of questions helps you manage your and the applicant’s time more effectively.
  • Better predict candidate performance. Research suggests that structured interviews are twice as effective in predicting employee performance than informal interviews.

To conduct a structured interview, there are five steps we recommend you take:

Structured Interview Checklist

  • uncheckedIdentify key competencies and skills. What are the priority skills you outlined in the job description and requirements?
  • uncheckedSelect the right interview questions.
  1. Behavioral questions
  2. Situational questions
  • uncheckedCreate a rating scale. How much will you rate a response as a match to the needs of the job?
  • uncheckedConduct the interview. Sit down with the interviewee and make sure to stick to the questions you’ve prepared.
  • uncheckedEvaluate the answers. As much as possible, do this with a panel so that you have varying opinions and insights that will balance your own.
  1. Encourage employee referrals to tap into diverse networks.

This is one of the most practical ways to connect with diverse talents and, in a way, remove the bias in screening.

The point of this measure is to defer the screening to the employees. At the same time, this helps you attract people who already somehow share similar skills and experiences as your existing talents. Your employees will inevitably have those kinds of peers. Why not extend the opportunity to them?

If you need to hire more women in tech, then maybe a female employee has friends who are in the same field who are open to taking the job. If you need to hire more Latinx talent, then perhaps they are part of a community that is looking for opportunities too.

You’ll be surprised how rich employee networks can be, and how being underrepresented brings people together.

  1. Leverage technology to mitigate bias in screening.

Using technologies like applicant tracking systems (ATS) is a modern solution for reducing bias in recruitment.

With these tools, you can get data-based insights on hiring patterns and gaps. These would draw your attention to any unconscious biases that may be surfacing during the hiring process.

What’s more, these tools can also provide recommendations based solely on the factual data that applicants state on their resumes and profiles. Tools like Manatal, for example, now leverage AI technology to match applicants to job openings you may have. It combines data from candidate profiles across various job board platforms to identify ideal candidates you can screen.

This greatly aids in directing recruiters towards more skills-based hiring – a preferred approach to making less biased hiring decisions.

Building an inclusive company culture

That’s because any kind of learned behavior becomes easier to live by when it’s part of a culture. The sense of community we feel from having shared beliefs and principles through culture is a compelling force that urges us to behave in certain ways.

Hence, when we eliminate bias, we must make sure that it stays gone by fostering a culture that is inclusive and welcomes diversity.

Here are my tips on how to do it.

  1. Fostering an environment of openness and acceptance.

We must set an example by advocating for diversity and embodying inclusive behavior. This entails communicating transparently, listening actively to diverse perspectives, and addressing any instances of bias promptly and decisively.

Leaders must also walk the talk and actively participate in the same DEI training to demonstrate commitment to understanding and addressing unconscious biases. In addition, we must also create channels so that employees can safely express concerns whenever they encounter bias and discrimination in the workplace.

  1. Providing mentorship and sponsorship programs.

Mentorship and sponsorship programs play a pivotal role in fostering diversity by providing support and guidance to underrepresented individuals in tech.

On the one hand, mentorship ensures professional growth through the guidance of a more seasoned professional who offers advice, shares experiences, and provides career guidance. Lack of mentorship for women in the workplace is one of the primary barriers to entry of other female workers in tech, as well. So addressing this may be an important turnkey to attracting more female talents in tech.

On the other hand, sponsorship is where influential people such as leaders advocate for the career advancement of mentees and employees. This is a strong demonstration of trust and commitment to growing a diverse pool of talents because it’s leaders who create pathways for career growth.

  1. Celebrating diversity through employee resource groups.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) serve as valuable platforms for celebrating diversity in an organization. These groups unite employees who share common backgrounds, interests, or experiences, providing a supportive community and fostering a sense of belonging.

Establish an ERG for LGBTQ+ employees so you can offer a space for networking, mentorship, and advocacy for the community. Actively supporting and promoting these groups shows that you acknowledge the unique contributions of diverse employees.

Encouraging ERGs to organize events, workshops, and awareness campaigns can also contribute to building a vibrant and diverse company culture. Cultures that, in turn, could attract new and diverse prospective employees.

  1. Tracking diversity metrics for continuous improvement.

Lastly, seek to always improve on your DEI efforts. Establish, measure, and track the metrics of your DEI efforts and act towards filling gaps you find.

Conduct employee surveys or even recruitment surveys to collect feedback on your DEI practices and policies. Are there groups that are still underrepresented in your organization? If so, what other measures can you take to fix the issue?

Another important aspect of this is transparency. Share your findings with your people – they are entitled to know about how you’re creating a better, more inclusive work environment for them. Willingness to be held accountable earns you the trust and confidence of people, sometimes even to the point that they’ll help work toward bridging the gaps with you.

The business case for diversity and inclusion

Needless to say, bridging gaps in diversity and inclusion greatly benefits a greater society. Through DEI efforts, we create opportunities for other people and communities to grow and thrive.

In turn, it feeds a cycle that creates more growth and opportunities, thus creating a positive ripple effect. From a business standpoint, we talked to some key leaders in the tech and tech-adjacent industries on how doubling down on DEI efforts benefits them:

  1. Increase innovation and creativity.

Creativity is inherently a skill that requires us to break the boundaries of our thinking. And that is perhaps the reason why digital marketing companies, being one of the most boundless workplaces, are where we see some of the most creative and innovative campaigns today.

Whether it’s the stories themselves or the technologies housing and propagating them, diverse teams with varying perspectives and experiences of the world are the source.

Gianluca Ferruggia, DesignRush’s Managing Director affirms this, telling us that “some of the most creative and innovative ideas we see in our online landscape today are those that were incubating in the brainstorming rooms of agencies with the most diverse people.”

  1. Enhanced problem-solving capabilities.

David Bitton, CMO of Doorloop, on the other hand, credits a lot of the kind of out-of-the-box problem-solving that led to his property management app to the different people he works with.

“There’s just so many ways that the practice of property management differs across the globe. To get even a nanometer close to finding solutions that will benefit everyone in our community – background aside – is by getting different people cooking up ideas and, more importantly, acting on it.”

Bitton explains that this has been most vital to their development of resource materials for their app customers. From market trends to legal guides, David says that “a diverse team helps inject nuance into these materials – producing content that caters to the specific needs of our clients.”

  1. Improved organizational performance and competitiveness.

“To consistently deliver results in our industry requires a lot of adaptability and resilience that I’ve only ever seen in diverse workplaces,” shares Seoprofy’s founder Victor Karpenko, discussing the approach that enables them to meet the demands of the 200 clients they serve.

For Victor and numerous other leaders, the diversity of their teams actually help them adapt to the unique challenges businesses face today. And while the difficulty of managing diverse teams, especially geographically diverse ones, could present a lot of logistical challenges, it’s nothing that the right technological tools can’t help address. The strategic implementation of modern tools like time tracking, project management software, and reliable communication platforms play a very important role in your ability to ensure organizational performance and competitiveness within a diverse team.

“Staying agile and responsive in this industry boils down to having a diverse team and equipping them with the right tools. It’s this combination that drives innovation and success,” he adds.

Final Words

As technology meshes further with our daily lives, more diversity in the technology sector will be needed so that the industry can continue to innovate in more inclusive ways.

It starts with humbly acknowledging the lapses we’ve fallen into in terms of policing internalized, unconscious biases in tech recruitment and, subsequently, taking firm steps to address them. Admittedly, we have a long way to go with bridging the vast gap. But right now, with each promise to commit to these changes, we can inch towards closing it.

All the while, we must keep in mind the importance of setting an example as leaders. That employees must stand firm, and hold people to their commitments. Because any kind of effort to uproot toxic cultures can survive, if we are not: 1) holding each other accountable, and 2) encouraging each other to do better – to make diversity the strength, and not just an end goal.

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